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Lopez Mercado funeral held in Puerto Rico
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Lopez Mercado funeral held in Puerto Rico

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

More than 1,000 people attended the November 23 funeral of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, the Gay teenager brutally murdered in Cayey, Puerto Rico.

"The support we have received from the public and Steven's friends has given us the strength to bear this moment of such horrible pain," Lopez's aunt Rubi Mercado told El Nuevo Dia newspaper at the funeral. "I asked Steven with his wings from heaven to help us carry on without having him by our side."

El Nuevo Dia reported that at the end of the funeral Mass, Lopez's aunt and his ex-boyfriend, Luis Rivera, opened the urn containing Lopez's ashes and placed a necklace and a white rose inside it. The newspaper also reported that Lopez's parents hugged their son's friends and cried.

"We definitely hope people and society wake up and demand justice," Lopez's friend Jose Alicea told El Nuevo Dia.

Lopez's friends carried balloons and white roses as they walked to the cemetery. Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" played during the procession.

Miriam Mercado, Lopez's mother, said in a videotaped statement released before the funeral:

"When my son told me he was Gay, I told him, 'Now, I love you more.' I want to tell the world that hatred is not born with human beings; it is a seed that is planted by adults and is fostered creating a climate of intolerance and violence. We must change our ways and understand that anyone & could have been my son. And I want everybody to know that Jorge Steven was a very much loved son."

Lopez was decapitated and dismembered on November 13. He was 19 years old.

A suspect in the killing was arrested four days later and subsequently confessed to the killing. He has been charged with murder and weapons violations.

Puerto Rican prosecutor Jose Bermudez said he believes the slaying was a hate crime.

"This constitutes a hate crime because [suspect Juan Martinez Matos] is angry with people who have sexual relations with persons of the same sex, but he goes out and seeks the services of people of the same sex in order to get angry and kill them," Bermudez said in an interview with Telemundo news service.

Martinez has claimed he picked up Lopez thinking he was a female prostitute and became enraged when he found Lopez was a man.

A spokesman for Lopez's family told Telemundo they were unaware the teen was involved in any kind of prostitution.

In separate footage aired on Telemundo, a reporter asked Martinez Matos if he is Gay.

"No," he replied. "[Lopez] tried to kill me."

"What happened happened because I defended myself. I cut him and beheaded him and I accept it as a man," Martinez told reporters.

Several hundred Puerto Rican Gay activists rallied on November 19 to demand an aggressive prosecution of Martinez.

Supporters have started a Facebook page called "Justice for Jorge Steven Lopez - End Hate Crimes." The group demands an investigation by Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno and prosecution of the case under federal hate crimes statutes.

The FBI office in San Juan, Puerto Rico confirmed it is monitoring the case and has offered technical assistance to Puerto Rican authorities. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Act passed and signed into law in October authorizes federal law enforcement officials to assist in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes against LGBT persons.

NGLTF Communications Director Pedro Julio Serrano, one of the organizers of the November 19 protest, said homophobia was rampant among political and law enforcement officials on the island. One politician, he said, recently referred to Gays as "twisted and mentally ill."

"We hold the authorities accountable for promoting hate rhetoric that provokes violence," Serrano told reporters after the rally.

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